IBM System z Solution Editions cut mainframe costs

The mainframe is way too expensive and IBM knows it, especially as a new generation of x86-based systems with robust virtualization emerges. IBM’s response is to roll out a series of hardware/software discount packages, referred to as System z Solution Editions. They promise to deliver the System z at apparently bargain basement prices. Here is a recent Solution Edition announcement from Aug.

In November, IBM briefed industry analysts on three more z Solution Edition offerings: for Chordiant CRM, Enterprise Linux, and Enterprise Linux Server. They join System z Solution Editions for Cloud Computing, Data Warehousing, SAP, ACI, WebSphere, Security, GDPS, and Application Development.

According to IBM, the z Solution Editions represent a “strategy to make System z attractive to new workloads so customers can run a much wider range of their business activities.” But the key to the strategy is slashing the price. System z Solution Editions are “designed to make the cost of deploying new workloads on System z price-competitive with alternative distributed systems,” says IBM.

For eligible buyers, which are those considering new workloads or are new to the z altogether, the Solution Edition bundles System z10 hardware, software, prepaid maintenance, and the necessary middleware at a substantially reduced price.

How much lower? IBM doesn’t reveal actual dollar-prices, preferring to talk in percentages. In one example IBM compared a customer running an SAP Solution Edition on a System z10 EC (6 GP engines, and 4 zIIP) to SAP running on HP (HP rx8640, 4×20 core 1.6 GHz Itanium servers). The result: 30% lower TCO over three years, 270% improved SAP throughput with the z SAP Solution Edition.

The Chordiant Solution Edition includes either a System z10 BC or EC, maintenance, and a software stack consisting of DB2 for z/OS and WAS for z/OS. It does require the company buy the Chordiant software too, naturally.

The Enterprise Linux Server Solution Edition, essentially, is a System z10 BC or EC machine with 2 IFLs packaged as an appliance for large Linux workloads. The entry configuration includes two zCores, 16 GB memory per core for the BC appliance or six zCores for the EC, 3-5 years of hardware maintenance, z/VM with 3-5 years of subscription and support, three 4-port FICON cards, and two 4-port OSA cards. IBM insists the acquisition cost is competitive with x86 or UNIX alternatives configured for large scale Linux consolidation.  Without seeing the actual costs or speaking directly with customers, however, it is not possible to determine how good a deal this is.

Along with the z Solution Edition pricing, IBM also cut the price of IFLs, as low as $50K per IFL in volume configurations. In the same spirit of price slashing Red Hat and Novell (SUSE Linux) reportedly are discounting their zLinux prices.

To add to the price incentives, IBM also launched a zRewards program last spring. zRewards  provides discounts on various migration services to help companies move workloads from other platforms to the z.  (An upcoming piece  will look at System z workload migration.)

So, is this going to be enough to persuade companies to move more workloads to the System z? IBM reports a 62% increase, 3Q07 to 3Q09, in the number of IFL engines shipped. The number of IFL MIPS shipped increased 100% over that time. This, however, doesn’t really prove anything about actually winning new customers.

The z Solution Editions certainly are a step in the right direction as far as lowering the cost of mainframe computing. The System z often makes a good TCO case for core enterprise applications, and its reliability and security are generally unquestioned. The problem, rather, lies in the cost of acquisition. To attract new customers, the System z needs a competitive cost of acquisition too.

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